What will leisure travel distribution look like in 2025? How will consumers want to buy cruise vacations? Will today's processes change that dramatically in six years, and if they do, how can agencies prepare for what consumers might want?
These are important questions, and they're driving a strategic initiative launched in 2018 by Fort Lauderdale-based host agency Avoya Travel, a leisure agency with an emphasis on cruise travel that lands at No. 28 on the 2019 Power List.
Avoya's initiative, dubbed Avoya 2025, is about projecting the state of leisure travel distribution, trends, suppliers and technology in that year and developing plans of action in 18-month increments to enable the agency to best take advantage of them.
"We as an operating entity needed to think more about where things were going five to seven years into the future as opposed to what was going to be happening next year or even two or three years in advance," said Avoya co-president Jeff Anderson. "The exercise for us was about establishing a longer timeline that would cause the business not to stumble years down the road because we weren't being visionary or progressive enough."
Citing an example of tech companies renowned for their innovation or their profitability, Anderson said Avoya solicited suggestions from the entire company about the future of leisure travel before prioritizing, scheduling and de-emphasizing those projections. It was a process he called "terribly inefficient but very important to do," and it led to the formation of the first 18-month plan -- Phase One -- that began in 2018 and will conclude later this year.
Phase One already has borne fruit, in the form of a new dashboard developed for Avoya's independent agents. The Avoya Agency Dashboard, built in-house, automates data collection and reporting to give the independent agents real-time views into dynamic data and content.
"These are individual business owners who are tech-savvy but who have limitations for how much time they're going to [dedicate to] their own business intelligence, data engineering, writing their own [profit and loss statement]," Anderson said. "Running a business is very complex, so the dashboard is really to simplify the way that they can best understand their business.
"There's features on there, such as reporting, that allow them to see how their sales are going relative to others that are in the network. But there's also deep day-to-day functionality that lives on the dashboard. Objects such as, how many leads am I working? How do I get into those leads? What customers am I working with? What are the active quotes that I have out there? What were the most recent sailings that I may have been researching for customers?"
Avoya has several other initiatives to introduce before Phase One ends later this year, Anderson said. But what of Phase Five? How will leisure travel distribution differ in 2025?
"From a customer perspective, I think that we have to look ultimately at what technology is dictating," Anderson said.
"With the rise of machine learning and artificial intelligence, that's going to be a core component of the way that we operate our lives."
The growth of such technology, Anderson said, will enable travel agents to rededicate time now spent gathering and organizing data to building better relationships with customers.
"As technology continues to get more sophisticated at being able to help humans in building those efficiencies, humans shift from a role of being a data aggregator, because machines will do that for us, and humans will increasingly play the role of an emotive force in consumer behavior," Anderson said.
"There is something about that personal relationship that is going to become more and more critical, but if we do technology right it'll shift away from travel experts doing a lot of grunt work to becoming even more relational than they ever have. They've always needed to be in order to stay relevant, but it will allow them to become experts even more so."
The initiatives of Phase One will cost tens of millions of dollars, Anderson said, but it's an initiative the agency must undertake in a rapidly changing environment.
"It would be easy for us to continue to just improve what we already have, or we can decide how we're going to leapfrog ourselves," Anderson said, "and that really ultimately boils down to figuring out where we think trends are heading."